Hey, New Students: Take These Tips From the Pros – UVA’s Orientation Leaders

Headshots left to right: Hannah So, Yasaar Ellis, and Gina Wilson

From left, Hannah So and Yasaar Ellis, members of the Class of 2024, and Gina Wilson, a member of the Class of 2023, share their expert advice. (Contributed photos)

With just about a month to go before they move in, members of the University of Virginia’s Class of 2025 are spending some of their summer in virtual orientation sessions with student leaders ahead of a huge, in-person blowout reception, UVA’s signature “Wahoo Welcome.”

Wahoo Welcome will include several weeks of programming for UVA’s newest community members. Programming, still being finalized, will commence during Move-In Weekend, which begins Aug. 18 for first-year students.

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Previous Wahoo Welcomes have featured an outdoor movie night, held in a field next to UVA’s Observatory Hill Dining Hall; food trucks and games during a festival night, held near the Aquatic and Fitness Center; and headlining guest comedians and musicians.

Students can enroll now in UVA’s popular “Hoos Connected” program. Based in psychology, Hoos Connected brings together small groups of new students for weekly sessions that focus on ways to make new, healthy relationships. This year, it is being offered as a one-credit course; students can enroll in PSYC 1020 through the Student Information System portal.

UVA Today asked three orientation leaders to share even more ways for new students get their heads in the game as they prepare to join one of the nation’s premier public universities and become lifelong Cavaliers.

Rising second-year student Hannah So said one thing she wishes she had done before starting at UVA was use her social media more. “Many student clubs and other UVA-related services and departments have Instagram and Facebook pages,” she said. “I think this is a great way to explore an organization or a student group in more detail, and maybe a way for new students to determine if they want to further get involved with that part of UVA.”

Here are some additional tips from So:

  • When you’re scheduling classes, try to incorporate at least one “fun” course into your semester. UVA offers a lot of interesting and specific courses that you may never really get to explore anywhere else. Taking a course that you find genuinely interesting will not only give you a course that is lighter on your stress-load, but it can also open you to a new passion and perspective.
  • Go to the activities fair. I cannot stress this enough. Explore different organizations and learn about them at the fair, put your name down for the ones that you feel interest in. Do not get pressured or stressed by the number of organizations. As the semester continues, you can figure out the few that you really want to get involved with. Signing up for an organization on the day of the activities fair is not a binding agreement (for the most part); it will give you the chance to meet more people and find a community. As you get emails from these different organizations and attend events, you will find the ones that you truly want to stay in and commit to.
  • Don’t be too stressed about adjusting to dorm life. As someone who really enjoys her alone time, I was super-worried about adjusting to public bathrooms and sharing rooms. Just know that everyone is going through the same adjustment process as you, and you will get comfortable after some time. It’s not worth stressing over it now; you will get over the little obstacles as they come.
  • Some general clothing advice: Virginia weather can be very dramatic, so make sure you have clothes you can layer. Also, I would suggest that you get shoes that are comfortable, and shoes that can withstand rain. Comfortable shoes will be your friend because there will be a lot of walking your first year. Waterproof shoes will be super helpful in the rain, because there are a lot of puddles around UVA when it rains.

Yasaar Ellis is also a member of the Class of 2024 and has a full-tuition leadership scholarship from the Posse Foundation, which supports groups of high-achieving high school students from urban schools. Here is his advice:

  • Find your comfy place on grounds. Whether this be a physical place or a place of mind, find somewhere where you feel OK and like yourself. This will help you navigate those tough times at the University and make the nice times even nicer. It’s important to have somewhere where you can feel OK.
  • Go to office hours, even if it’s just to meet your professors. It’s always a good rule of thumb to try and make that connection so that you can be successful in whatever you do. Those connections can really help you in the future. You never know what opportunities can arise.
  • Explore a little. We often get caught up in our daily routines and lose that sense of discovery and adventure that is needed to navigate Grounds as a new student. It’s important that you try to find new things and new activities to engage in so that you can get the most out of your UVA experience.

Gina Wilson is a rising third-year student and a lover of comedy, international relations and data science. She advises students that “everything you do does not have to build your résumé or further your career goals. Prioritize building relationships, take interesting courses outside your major, pursue your passions and spend time exploring Charlottesville,” she said.

Here are a few more of her tips for new students:

  • “FOMO,” or the fear of missing out, is a real phenomenon and is amplified when every event is new and exciting. In reality, there will always be another social event or guest speaker, so do not feel pressure to say “yes” when you feel burnt out.
  • Get to know upperclassmen. Your peers are the best resource on navigating life at UVA. They know what courses to take, clubs to join and places to eat on the Corner. If you have difficulty approaching upperclassmen, consider joining a peer advising or mentorship program.
  • There isn’t a single factor or decision that is going to “make or break” your UVA experience. Whether you have to wait a semester to get into a course you need or get rejected from a pre-professional club, you will not be behind or get less out of your time here at UVA.

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